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Showing posts with label Marnie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marnie. Show all posts

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

In three Tweets, a response to Nancy (2018)

In three Tweets, a response to Nancy (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

31 October

In three Tweets, a response to Nancy (2018)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Less like themselves, more like they want to be

This is a review of The Dressmaker (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

30 November

This is a review of The Dressmaker (2015)

It is almost as though The Dressmaker has been pinned to fit around this one fact : Sunset Blvd. (1950) premiered in Australia, on 25 August 1950.

For want of a better word, the film is set in Dungatar, in 1951, but nothing in the flash of music, the gestures, the stance, remotely desires more than to draw our attention to the fact that there is unfinished business in this implausible, symbolic place – symbolic, because its very set-up is pat in the way that that of films such as High Noon (1952) always was, so that there can be nothing behind its implausibility, if not symbolism. (Here, the paraphernalia of the wild west, and all the stock sights and spectacles of the age’s saloon-bars, have been rolled into one figure.)

Symbolism, but not of any subtle or interesting kind, because it wants to revisit an earlier time of colourless grey, bit by irritatingly nagging bit. As if picking the skin of forgetfulness off an obliging old tangerine, and miraculously penetrating to – although with no means to do so beyond being back there – what had been misremembered, misunderstood, misrepresented. At best, Kate Winslet, in the person of Myrtle Dunnage (‘Tilly’), says to her mother (‘Mad’ Molly, played by Judy Davis) : I need you to remember me, mum, so I can remember.

That, too, is just a gesture in the direction of a symbolic level for the rehabilitation and restitution of Tilly’s mother (and, a few times, Molly duly disbelieves why her daughter is there). By contrast, in the best of Ibsen, this notion of what really happened can be revelatory, electrifying, and rarely for good, and many a time Hitchcock made true film capital through showing us something on screen that, although it was not the mind’s obfuscations in dream, desire or trauma, mimicked them (e.g. Spellbound (1945), Vertigo (1958), and Marnie (1964) :

Here it is just entertainment, with an audience of would-be psychic explorers, but in titters at Hugo Weaving’s again wearing women’s clothes : he did so devastatingly as Nurse Noakes in Cloud Atlas (2012), and without either exploiting or mocking, as this role does, those who share this interest. The likely audience for The Dressmaker will be unlikely to gravitate towards Dogville (2003), or to do so to their taste, whereas those who missed it and have only witnessed the work of Lars von Trier in more recent works of excess such as Melancholia (2011) and Nymphomaniac Vol. I (2013) and Vol. II (2013), can seek a worthier film there.

This is a film that never tries to do what Dogville does, but really feels like [it wants to be] Wes Anderson, but without Wes, and which is definitely written in a way that wishes that it could be even bad Wodehouse, but which just never will be : it desires to have older people ‘behave badly’, but does so in that stock way that Ronald Harwood uses for Billy Connolly’s character, when he adapts his stage-play as Quartet (2012), rather than is done more inventively, for Judi Dench, in Philomena (2013).

Whatever Rosalie Ham’s novel may be, it seems newly published (in paperback, but there is evidence of an audio-book on CD from 2003...), and does not appear in hardback until April next year.

Some reviews from Rotten Tomatoes (@RottenTomatoes) :

Peter Bradshaw (@PeterBradshaw1), for The Guardian, gave it one star, and closes his review by saying Surely Winslet can find better roles than this.

For Little White Lies (@LWLies, where they score things differently), the marks are not much kinder, and the review by David Jenkins (@DaveyJenkins) is headed 'This lop-sided couture western staggers on long past what should've been a short, sharp run time'.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 9 February 2015

Un séjour avec soju ?

This is a review of A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya) (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 February

This is a review of A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya) (2014), watched at a special screening at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse), on Thursday 5 February 2015

Introductory - other important Doona Bae roles :

As the Tweet (inevitably pithily) tries to say, there are some significant roles for Doona Bae (or, at any rate, those whose existence is easily known in the West) that appear to be linked (whether that reflects the nature of roles offered to, as well as accepted by, Doona Bae).

When Nozomi, the doll that Hideo (Itsuji Atao) buys in Air Doll (2009), comes to life (as played by Doona Bae), the doll itself / herself is a substitute for a failed affair, and Nozomi is rarely quite one with the world into which she emerges (and from which she ultimately departs) except to the extent that she makes a life for herself and finds others who understand her and her experience.

The idea of a doll come to life is, at heart, just as much a metaphor* – it is up to the viewer with what the metaphorical connection itself is being made – as it is in the case of the so-called fabricants in Cloud Atlas (2012), with Sonmi-451** proving the tenets of AI, in that these created life-forms do become wholly sentient, although only intended to be unemotional, robotic drones.

That said, setting apart The Animatrix (2003) (and its engaging depiction of The Rise of The Machines, desiring equality with mankind – as foreshadowed by Samuel Butler in Erewhon), it is one that the Wachowskis, elsewhere, largely wish to resist in the Matrix world (starting with The Matrix (1999)). For Neo appears to assert a primacy of humanness / humanity – although, in the eyes of The Architect (and on some other scale), Neo may just as much be [reducible to] a piece of code as, in Jupiter Ascending (2015), Jupiter Jones is considered to be genetically identical to the mother of Lord Titus.

However, in this film, Doona Bae (Inspector Young-Nam Lee) is not playing a doll who lived, or a replicant who discovered feelings (including sexual arousal), and became a rallying cry for generations to come, but is a woman, taking care of the girl of the title(not least in the original title, where she is named). Albeit at Lee’s door is not where we first see her, for she is being bullied, and there are some tensions built into that premise…***

In any case, the girl (Dohee) is a mirror to Lee, and she is played with such great plasticity by Kim Sae Ron that one could not believe that one or two other girls had not been sharing the part – an effect not accounted for just by make-up and hair. Lee’s identification with Dohee, and her concomitant compassion and malleability / indulgence, is obvious from the start, though not the depths of – or the reasons for – it.

Whereon hangs the film, were it not that :

* Whether or not one’s constraints are budgetary ones (according to Wikipedia®, the film’s budget was just US $300,000), what the film presents as a small coastal settlement is even more obviously unpopulated than it would be compared, say, to shooting in Seoul – at least, what we see must be a small quarter of Yeosu (which research suggests is actually a city, not a town)

* Even if the script wants to explain that situation away, by saying that Koreans no longer want to live / work there, and that only the person keeping the workers there are in hand is local : in that case, what need a police station, with not a few officers, at which Lee is the ‘station chief’, if the only significant activity is aquatic in nature ?****

* In fact, the cast is so thin on the ground that, apart from the denizens of a hair salon cum village hub, and the group of people who are momentarily present when Lee moves into supposedly temporary accommodation, we have already met everyone else. (Although Lee apologizes to her landlady for the inconvenience of her unexpected arrival, conveniently there is no sign that she is ever going to be housed anywhere else.)

* The world of this film, then, revolves unconvincingly around only the workers, Dohee’s father (who is in charge of the workers, and is the somewhat erratically written and drawn father of Dohee*****), Lee’s fellow officers, and a cashier of a supermarket in an unspecified location (but, in the locality, a police officer does not even recognize Lee whilst she is busy with her bottles of water).

Doona Bae and Kim Sae Ron are both excellent in their roles. Sadly, theirs are the only ones with any substance, for not only is Dohee’s father a cipher (of parental drunkenness), but so is her grandmother – who seems strangely reminiscent of [a more aggressive version of] the one who is initially unsympathetic in Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket(2013) (which is set in Laos)…

NB Possible spoilers in this paragraph
As to Doona Bae’s character, it depends intimately, and even intensely, on that played by Kim Sae Ron, to the extent that it is questionable whether they are, apart from on the level of the attribution of dialogue, actually separable. That notion, if one were seriously encouraged to entertain it from the start to finish in the film, could have been its saving from its immersion in banality, as well as the need to believe that, although Lee is a police inspector, she is not only very naive in her personal dealings, but also lacking in being even plausibly streetwise.

By choice of film to appear in, Doona Bae seems in danger of not usefully claiming for herself the territory of the saintly fool, too good for this world, but forced to be in and of it [as in The Idiot (Idioot) (2011)] : it may suit her aesthetic to take such roles, but they do not ultimately flatter or, more importantly, use her talents. Yes, of course it is a delight to see her infectious smile break through, after sombre scenes where she is forced to be the celebrated guest at some grim event for her induction, but showing wearing ‘a mask’ can only be done so many times (even to the extent that spring water is turned into some sort of saké – or vice versa), however well Doona Bae carries it off, before it become stale.

This film, almost inevitably, reminded of Humbert Humbert (James mason) in Lolita (1962) and of the eye of the beholder, but also of many another scenario where one properly suspects that manipulation (masked by apparent innocence) is at work. For, no doubt for reasons relating to her own past, Lee trusts Dohee (for example, there is an un-ironic scene with tears, harp in the score, and Lee’s tender reaction), rather as Sean Connery does Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964). However, viewers of, say, Catalan cinema may be reminded more by Dohee of Nico (David Solans) in Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), and doubt the wisdom of Lee’s faith (however much, as heavily implied, Dohee may be the imprint of a young Lee).

The reason being that this is one of those films that opens with a car, clearly being driven a distance, with what we know – from looking towards the front of the car and through the windscreen – is literal baggage in the back. And that, perhaps, is the downfall of any sense of (surprise at) the unfolding of the story, on which it seems to have depended, whereas it all seems – without suggesting dramatic irony – so patent, right from seeing the arrival in a place with a small-town mentality. In Peter Gabriel’s words (from ‘Big Time’, on his album So) :

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out


* This has been a topos since, at least, Adam was fashioned from clay (Genesis 2:7), proceeding through the Greek mythology of Talos and of Hesiod’s Pandora, the Metamorphoses of Ovid, and Pygmalion’s statue there, Paulina’s in The Winter’s Tale, Bernard Shaw’s reimagining of Ovid in Pygmalion (and its own reimagining in My Fair Lady (1964)), etc., etc.

** Doona Bae is also credited, by IMDb (@IMDb), as playing Sonmi-351 :

*** The (apparent) failure to envisage any consequences of the isolated example of intimidation by peers is one that the plot seeks to gloss over by, much later, having Lee stated to be such a feared force (this fear seems little evident at the), and by locating the main time-period of the film outside term, so that nothing comes of it.

Maybe, but it did seem, at one point, as though the serious incident that we witness, where Lee’s mere show of authority is not taken seriously until it becomes referable to their middle school (and whether she follows it up seems doubtful – the plot just seems to have her forget about the issue) : Lee does not, at any rate (which seems to indicate a late shoe-in) raise the question with Dohee until it is unconscionably late, if something had been continuing…

**** It is hardly to be referred to on account of being a better film, but My Sweet Pepper Land (2013) at least avoids one feeling that Baran (Korkmaz Arslan), its police officer, is on anything other than a perilous, corrupt frontier (happily joined there by Govend (Golshifteh Farahani)). The world of A Girl is actually such a world, but with an implausible veneer of law enforcement, and of seeming to be a home to generally law-abiding folk…

***** Regrettably, both note-taking and IMDb let one down on crediting the actor and his role ! However, we are saved NB Link is to a summary of the plot by Wikipedia®, which tells us that he is Park Yong-ha (played by Song Sae-byeok).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Miming in the choir*

This is a review of The Railway Man (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

22 January

This is a review of The Railway Man (2013)

* Contains spoilers *

I’m still at war, Eric Lomax comes to realize when he has gone to confront his persecutor, but, before he does so, there is the bulk of one tautly reined and powerful film, amongst whose many strengths are the conviction of the cast, the inventiveness and crispness of its cinematography, and how the highly effective score (by David Hirschfelder) employs instruments as varied as cello, oboe, gamelan and Japanese flute** in an integrated whole, which works with the film despite our consciousness of it.

As a young Lomax, Jeremy Irvine*** more than fulfils the potential that he showed in Now is Good (2012), even catching the rhythms and mannerisms of Colin Firth, his older self, and forming a tight triangle with Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman), the woman whom he loves (known as Patti). Only it will not work as a triangle****, and, despite fellow survivor Finlay’s (Stellan Skarsgård’s) initial dismissals of Wallace as a Florence Nightingale who wants to work on Lomax and who is underestimating what Lomax and he and others went through in captivity under the Japanese army, he agrees to help, acknowledging the happiness that she has brought Lomax.

Lomax’s other love is trains, and we all know the type, which gives a matter of factness that is part of Lomax’s charm and attractiveness. Kidman and Firth handle the scene wonderfully, with the clincher being what the accompanying sailors had been shouting when her older relatives watched Brief Encounter (1945), another triangle, and a promise from Kidman to behave better. Already, in the things that Lomax asks her, we know that he is revealing things about himself, and his view of life, with his suggestions for where she might travel on the Scottish West Coast. He only, though, confirms his feelings to himself by telling another, Finlay, of what happened.

It is a form of validation, and no wonder when we learn of what happened to him in the Second World War (with the worst revealed till last). Finlay only hints at what Lomax’s life was like before he met Wallace, and she only realizes what Lomax’s experiences are like when they have married, but is fiercely loyal to him : she says that she had twenty years in nursing, and she may well have known others who had been hurt by what happened to them.

The scene where we realize what dogs Lomax, with the world of the Burma railway stealing into his mind and obliging him to go back there, against his will and with physical force, is highly imaginative, mixing not so much memory and desire (T. S. Eliot’s verse from the opening of (‘The Waste Land’) as memory and despair. We do not need to be shown again what his inner life is at these times, but we see him struggle to resist change in his life with Wallace, and how the remnants of the past that she finds chill her, but embolden her wish to help her husband.

Nothing in this film feels gratuitous (and it is very graphic in places, which strike home), and things are not shown in the interests of reviving hatred for the perpetrators of these acts on prisoners of war. As the film develops, Lomax knows no more than we what we might do, and the exactness about him that we see in Irvine, when is trying to explain that he really likes trains, is there when he challenges the words that are being used to describe his friends’ and his treatment.

Be reminded that this is a film, and not Lomax’s book – until we get to the end of the film, it opens incomprehensibly, because that is the typical artifice of films, to sow a seed – and the reconciliation and friendship with Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) actually happened quite differently from how portrayed, but would not have made such a good film.

In his acting, Irvine has just the right qualities to be bright eyed, knowledgeable but not brash, in pain, selfless, proud : he is our guide to the older Lomax, and Firth and he mirror each other. To its credit, the film did have the services of a psychiatrist available to it, and it also does not seem improbable that a man who had experienced what Lomax did would have ended up as he does later on in life, though what the onset of that behaviour is unclear.

It seems that Firth and Kidman met Patti and Eric Lomax, and that, although he died before it could be seen, she has supported the film***** and said that Firth caught her late husband on camera. Factually, it telescopes and inverts the order of many things, but this does not seem to have bothered the Lomaxes, who, if so, must have appreciated that telling a story in a film is different from doing so in Lomax’s own writing.

If it encourages people to read The Railway Man (with Lomax's delirious poem), then all to the good, but it does stand complete in itself, and whilst more could be made of the input that Patti Lomax had to her husband’s regaining his equilibrium, doing so was not necessary, because, from the lead performers’ portrayals, we never doubt their love for each other, and that is the strength from which they built.

This film does what it needs to, by evoking bravery, self-sacrifice, and the very depths of love and friendship.


* This is how Finlay, in his role of Uncle to his fellow prisoners when in captivity, describes to Patti his feelings of inadequacy to be a continuing support to them.

** That description may fit a typical East / West musical pastiche, but this is so much better, quite possibly one of the top scores for the last twelve months.

*** Whom it seems Colin Firth suggested for the part.

**** Because Lomax of 1980 is dragged back by the one of 1942 and his experiences from fully being with her. Somehow, the physical hurts then have to be healed in his mental life now, and Lomax is almost certainly subject to, at the very least, post-traumatic stress disorder. Significantly, unlike the Marnie (1964) type of film, she is not the one who (directly) finds him the healing.

***** According to IMDb, The real-life Patti Lomax attended the film's world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013. She received a standing ovation upon the screening of the film.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Drowning the piglets

This is a Festival review of Upstream Color (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 September

This is a Festival review of Upstream Color (2013)

* Contains spoilers *

We agreed that it was well made (as, at any rate, we did about The Taste of Money (2012)), and @mob61uk assented to my assertion that Amy Seimetz was excellent (as Kris).

I then propounded that, as many a film does, it treats of mental ill-health - here, the appearance that Kris had a breakdown and lost her job is belied by seeing how she had been deliberately infected, thereby rendered incapable of independent thought, and had been manipulated to cause her to obtain multiple amounts of credit, and use the equity in her home, on the pretext that she was finding the ransom for her kidnapped mother.

The financial excess, the wild behaviour, would easily have landed her with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and with the two chunky tubs of tablets that she puts on the table in front of Jeff when first they get to talk properly, saving them, as she puts it, 3 to 4 weeks. He does not quite understand what it might matter, what the implications might be, but does not seem put off.

One level on which the film works is a bit like that of Contagion (2011), of tracing the infection back to its root, and, thereby, of validating the experience of Kris (and others), even down to the pigs. Or The Matrix (1999) - when Neo is first captured by Agent Smith and, with the help of two other Agents, a literal, living bug is put into Neo's body, getting it out is as wrenchingly disgusting as when the deceiver makes Kris vomit. Not the only similarity, because there is feeling, when Jeff is directing Kris through the building at work to where the car is, of Cypher or others directing, say, Trinity to an exit, and of the same sense that the real feels unreal.

Back further, we have such touchstones of <i>Madness in Movies</i> as Cary Grant (as Roger Thornhill) being framed in <i>North by Northwest</i> (1959) (so everyone else seems mad, and he to them, for not believing him), likewise exploiting James Stewart's weakness as Scottie in <i>Vertigo</i> (1958), or, on the other hand, Stewart being credited by a psychiatric Ingrid Bergman in <i>Spellbound</i>, or Sean Connery (Mark Rutland) looking out the psychological basis of Marnie's (Tippi Hedren's) behaviour, because he loves and believes in her.

In Upstream Color (2013), Jeff is an Ingrid or Sean to Kris. They wear each other's identical ring, and there is more than a chemistry between them, because, through each other, they can trace the pig-farmer, and, just as he seems able to project himself into places and to observe people unseen, so Kris sees him, and looks right through him.

I think that this is really a tremendous piece of work by Shane Carruth of writing, directing, producing and starring in this provocative exploration of the nature of reality, and I can see myself hoping to watch it again very soon.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Balancing Hitchcock

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 October

* Contains spoilers *

I will always make time to try to see a Hitchcock - as, broadly, with any film - in the cinema.

Often enough, it is a restoration, and the BFI has done a fair bit of that recently with his early films. There may be one screening (or a limited number), but one can usually hope to make it.

However, when the strand at this year's Cambridge Film Festival put on twelve films in the only eleven days that it ran*, there were inevitably going to have to be compromises, if trying to do all of them did not become an aim in itself, dictating that one could not see nearly as much of others' work. I therefore chose to limit myself to three (although, if domestic arrangements had permitted, I would happily have made an excuse to reacquaint myself with North by Northwest (1959)).

Vertigo (1958), I have already found time to talk about separately here, which leaves Blackmail (1929) and Marnie (1964), very different times, as we needed to be treated to piano accompaniment to the former. (Sadly, the festival web-site does not credit the pianist for his superb work, but I am able to name John Sweeney, because I have spotted his name in the programme (where I least expected it).)

I think that there may be similarities and preoccupations that I can identify, and, straightaway, is the fact that Hitchock is drawn to making the woman the criminal wrongdoer in all three films (whatever others may have done, it is her guilt and whether she can escape from it that is our point of attention): is Hitchcock giving us, deep down, what we want, or what he really wants (they may be the same thing)?

The contrast is with the Cary Grant figure, not just in NBNW, who is often enough a spy or a policeman (although, in the named film, he has to choose his allegiance, once he has worked out what is going on). I am just guessing, when I should really find out, that Hitchcock may have become influenced by, and even have experienced, the world of psychoanalysis that was so prevalent. Whether or not be believed in it, a film such as Marnie typifies the embodiment in Hollywood cinema of Freudian or sub-Freudian thinking and beliefs, for we are shown a young woman both shaped by her past and with recollections, which she cannot understand for herself, of what that past really means.

The scenes where Marnie ('Tippi' Hedren) relates to her mother (Diane Baker) - or, rather, doesn't relate to her mother, except on the most basic, human level - are almost too painful to watch: there is a torn, broken relationship, although the ties are there. The unfolding of the film tells us what really happened, why Marnie experiences what she does, and the forgetting that is usual in these films is here exposed by Sean Connery's dogged detrmination (as Mark Ruland) to find out the truth, because of the woman whom he loves. Revelation, redemption, renewal is almost the pattern.

In her book In Glorious Technicolor, Francine Stock considers, whether or not it was any more than cinematic convention, this prevalent presentation of one startling breakthrough in recollection or insight that will change everything (itself a sort of version of the American dream of anyone 'making it', and going from rags to riches, by suggesting that the transformation could be so strightforward and simple), which dominated this type of psychiatric or psychological film for a long time: the pattern, as she expounds it, is clearly there in Spellbound (1945), with, there, a male suspected of murder (Gregory Peck) and Ingrid Bergman as the psychiatrist who achieves the breakthrough.

Unlike the women in Blackmail, Vertigo, and Marnie, Peck's character is accused of wrongdoing, but is not ultimately guilty of it. Turning to the first of those, Anny Ondra (as Alice White) has left clues of what she did in self-defence, and they dog her for much of the film. When seemingly free of them, what Hitchcock clevely does is pull the rug from under us that there had been a common understanding, with her policeman boyfriend (John Longden), as to what was being covered up. It is too late, but what, maybe we wonder, will become of them, and what did he think that he was hushing up?


* Not to be critical, but this was more of a season than a strand, and I do wonder whether there might be scope for bringing some of them back together so that those who, like I, wanted to see films that may never appear can see some new ones, some maybe not so new.